The image is blurred, but on purpose, explains the European Space Agency (ESA). The procedure is something that the optics specially designed for the telescope does to maximize the accuracy of the Cheops analysis – CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, in its unprecedented mission of characterizing exoplanets around nearby stars.
The telescope will help to measure the very small variations in light coming from these planets that revolve around other stars, changes in brightness in the order of 0.0001%.
The registration of this first image was decisive in the extensive testing phase that awaits Cheops, before the satellite delves deeply into the purpose for which it was built, through a partnership between ESA and Sua, through a consortium led by the University Bern.
The image shows a stellar field centered on HD 70843, a yellow-white star about 150 light years away, chosen as the ideal target for the first test due to its brightness and location in the sky.
The first images that were about to appear on the screen were crucial for us to be able to see if the telescope's optics had survived the launch of the rocket in good shape, said Willy Benz, principal investigator for the CHEOPS mission consortium. When the first images of a star field appeared, it was immediately clear to everyone that we actually had a telescope in operation.
The Cheops has a weight of 280 kg and the main body, in the shape of a cube with edges, measures 1.5 meters. It was placed in orbit at about 700 kilometers of altitude, where it must remain for the mission of three and a half years.
In addition to Sua, it has important contributions from 10 other member states of the European agency, including three Portuguese companies and a research center.
This is the first in a series of three Cheops missions, which also include Plato and Ariel, planned for the next decade, with the aim of addressing different aspects of the scientific investigation of the most distant planets.